Title: Dark Chocolate
Author: Elliott Silver
Feedback: Yes please.
Summary: Trigger, verb: to "trigger", cause a reaction.
She was five steps down the canned goods aisle when the thought hit her, surrounded by Le Seur baby peas and Green Giant French-cut beans on one side and Campbell’s soups on the other.
She pushed the cart down the rest of the aisle without stopping, the one wheel shimmying and squeaking loud enough to attract the attention of the lone stock boy and three other shoppers still at the grocery store at a few minutes before ten on a Thursday night.
Her heels hurt from the three-inch square-toed boots she was wearing. Her black trenchcoat blew out behind her as she whipped down the frozen food aisle. By rote she passed the microwave pizzas and Bird’s Eye boxed vegetables. She stopped at the freezer case all the way to the end; the bright orange and red sign announced the buy two, get one free sale on Healthy Choice entrees. She opened the door and the cold misty air swooped over her. She blinked quickly, tried not to think about him, and chose a Beef Tips with Mashed Potatoes, some kind of basil pasta meal, and without even looking, grabbed a third box. She slammed the freezer door so hard the stock boy that had been following her looked up.
She didn’t want to think about him.
She clamped her teeth and rolled the creaking, skidding cart past the closed bakery and deli. She picked up a loaf of bread simply because it was on the end of the aisle. She grabbed a half-gallon of skim milk, even though she barely drank a FDA serving before it went sour. She passed the yogurts and butters, the cheeses all lined up, cheddar and the jacks, Monterey or pepper, and mozzarella. She shoved at the empty cart and pitched down the aisle.
The stock boy began replacing gallon tubs of ice cream. She looked at him; he looked at her and then looked away again, dumping five tubs of Dulce de Leche into the freezer. He looked back up again. Her trench coat was just short enough to show black stockinged legs.
She opened the freezer case in front of her. Pint-sized cups of ice cream stared back, all dressed in flashy marketing colors. Ben and Jerry’s in their cartoon-like letters were on the top several shelves, everything from Phish Food to Concession Obsession to the original Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Starbuck’s coffee flavors were next, all their fraps and mochas and cappaccino. She grabbed a small gold box at the bottom, Godiva Dark Chocolate Truffle.
The stock boy was dumping more tubs into the freezer.
She looked at the rest of the aisles she had yet to do, the salad dressings and ketchups, the crackers and cookies, and the fresh produce over on the far wall.
She knew she needed several other things, but she couldn’t remember what they were. She thought about him, how he liked Oreos and Evian bottled water, but hated celery sticks. The thought gnawed at her. It hurt.
She pushed the cart past the wide-eyed stock boy and to the express lane, the only one open. The girl’s hair was dyed that weird cherry coke color that was neither red nor black and looked mostly purple. She surveyed the well-dressed woman lazily and began scanning the items as they rolled towards her on the splotched conveyer.
The woman wondered whether she had picked up anything he’d like. She knew he’d like the ice cream. She wondered if she could get to him before it melted. She was going to try.
"You only have two Healthy Choice entrees," the checkout girl said, as she held up the mismatched green box of oriental shrimp rolls that she’d picked up by mistake. "You can get a third one free."
The woman shrugged and the girl snapped her gum. The woman looked anxious to get out of there.
"Cash or credit," she asked.
"Cash," the woman answered. And her cell phone rang.
"$23.10," the girl said.
The woman handed over a crisp $50. The girl frowned and dug out the correct change, scooping out ninety cents worth of change from her drawer.
"Are you gonna get that?" she asked as she dumped the money and receipt into the woman’s dark plum-manicured hands.
The woman simply rolled out of the sliding doors and out into the parking lot. She slung the three bags of food into the back of her convertible and left the shopping cart in the middle of the empty lot. She revved her engine and backed out so quickly, her tires squealed. As the girl watched, she saw the alien green lights of her cell phone pressed against her ear.
There was no introduction.
"Where are you?"
She felt his confusion and it made her miss him that much more. She pressed harder on the accelerator as she went around a curve in the road.
"What?" he asked and she heard the clatter as he dropped whatever gadget he’d been playing with when he’d dialed her number and waited.
"Where are you?" she repeated, turning through a no turn on red light.
"Parker - " Jarod said. He might have begun saying something else, but she’d already hit the end button on her cell phone and stared down at the number on her cell screen.
She held her breath and pressed her booted foot harder down on the accelerator. The convertible surged forward; she could head the plastic bags rattling around in the trunk as the food dumped out and rolled all over.
She remembered buying chocolate ice cream, but not what else. All she remembered was the thought that she couldn’t be there any more. Not just the supermarket where’d she’d done all her random shopping for the past ten years and still didn’t have a shoppers advantage card, but the Centre, Blue Cove, the entire state of Delaware. He’d once asked her, what about us, and at the time she’d had no answer. Now she did, when she couldn’t even go through a grocery store without him.
She hit the open highway and passed a convoy of five Wal-Mart trailers heading south. She couldn’t have said how long she drove except that the idiot light for gas went on around 11:30 and she stopped at a Mobil station in West Virginia. She bought a Pepsi and opened it while she was passing a tow truck at 75. The soda was sweet with caffeine and it hit her empty stomach the same fluttery way she felt when she wanted to kiss him.
She hit Virginia after midnight and at a Sheetz in Richmond, she threw out the empty soda bottle and bought another. A drizzle had started; she flicked on her wipers, then turned them up a notch as the rain splashed harder.
There was nothing on the radio; it was next to impossible to pick a radio station, much less anything that played decent songs, in Virginia. The highway was deserted. Every now and then, she’d pass a slower moving tractor-trailer, but for the most part, she avoided the three police clockers and kept going until she reached the North Carolina border.
She stopped the convertible at a rest stop and information center. The rain was starting to pour harder as she ran towards the buildings. Two late night truckers with candy bars in their hands passed her with low whistles. She ducked towards the empty pay phone and pushed several quarters down the slot. One came back through the coin return and she had to shove it through again. She took a breath and dialed.
The first ring buzzed in her ear, but he answered by the second.
"Where are you?" she asked.
"Parker – "
"I’m on a pay phone in North Carolina, Jarod! It’s not traceable and the Centre isn’t tapping it, so just tell me where you are!"
There was a silence. She could feel him debating what to say. He was trying to be all right with the rising panic in her voice. He was trying to fight the hope of what she was saying.
"Jarod, I’ve got chocolate ice cream melting in my car and it’s raining."
She knew he wanted to laugh but knew this wasn’t a laughing matter.
"Charleston, Parker. I’m in Charleston."
She hung up and turned her collar up before running out into the rain. Her boots sloshed through the puddles. She slid into the convertible, happy that the roof was firmly up, and squirmed out of her soaked trenchcoat, throwing it in the back seat. The engine started with a purring whir and she flicked the heat on high, turning the all the blowers towards her. Her silk shirt hung on her damply. She picked up one of the napkins from the console and wiped away the runny mascara from her eyes. It took off her foundation as well and with half her makeup off, she scrubbed off the rest. She backed out of her spot and merged back onto the highway now crowding with early morning commute traffic. She got stuck in one jam when an SUV skidded off the slick road, but she kept going. It was raining just enough to bring the oil up on the macadam, not enough to wash it off; she drove as fast as she dared to get where she was going. She pulled into a gas station with a Subway tacked onto its one side and used the pay phone situated between the two.
Jarod answered on the first ring; he gave her brief directions and she hung up.
She poured herself a sludgy cup of coffee in the gas station and drank it black as she drove into Charleston.
He was waiting for her when she pulled into the stone driveway of the little cape cod house. He was wearing a white tee shirt and a pair of khaki chinos. He was barefoot. He rose from the porch and even before she got out of the car, she knew he’d been waiting for a long time.
He came down the stairs of the porch and held open the convertible’s door as she stiffly got out, her silk shirt water-spotted and wrinkled, her make-up wiped away, her hair a mess in tangles it would take more than one deep conditioning to unknot. She thought she’d bought some Pantene; maybe she’d only bought ice cream. Maybe buying food in South Carolina would be different. Maybe buying food with him would be.
His brown eyes were still the same as he closed the car door with a whump and nothing stood between them. His eyes always reminded her of dark chocolate. Then she kissed him.
"Can I stay?" she asked.
He nodded as he held her and they began breathing again. "When do you have to be back?"
She pulled her head away from his shoulder. "I’m not," she answered. It would have been easier to say if she hadn’t been looking into his eyes.
"Parker – "
"No, I mean, I don’t even have a Shoppers Advantage card at that store and I’ve been there ten years." She looked at him and held her breath. "It’s never going to end, Jarod."
"No, it’s not," he answered honestly.
"I just – " she began as he put his hands on either side of her cheeks and kissed her forehead lightly as if he was sorry for the truth. "I just don’t want to buy ice cream alone anymore."
"That’s what brought you here?" he asked. He had been asking her to love him for years and it was ice cream. If only he’d known.
She nodded her head; there was that nervous feeling in her stomach again, like too much caffeine, like kissing him, like the fear she couldn’t stay.
"I love ice cream," he whispered as he kissed her again.
When he looked at her again, she was smiling that old smile he had fallen in love with.
"Dark Chocolate Truffle again?" he asked and she laughed; it sounded magical. "So is the ice cream all melted? Or do we need to buy more?"
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